Column: Welcome to the Oval Office, President Trump

TrumpI had a sandwich and a coffee in the Amber service station in Fermoy a few weeks ago. At the table next to me was a group of children, eating chips and enjoying the lack of adult supervision. Four boys and two girls. I’d say the oldest of them was ten. I paid no heed till I realised that they were discussing politics.

“Guys!” said a boy who had until this point been throwing ketchup sachets at one of the girls, “Imagine if Donald Trump actually won!”

“Oh my God, Donald Trump is such a racist!” replied the girl.

“If Donald Trump wins it will be The End Of The World,” said the other girl with grim certainty.

“Um,” said a boy who was stacking his chips one on top of the other in a lattice formation, “You know Donald Trump won’t be the actual president of Ireland, ‘cause that’s like President Higgins’ job?”

(From the murmur of approval which greeted this remark, I suspect Michael D would get a warm reception from Fermoy’s under-ten community, should ever he stop into Amber for a feed of chips.)

“If Donald Trump gets to be The President Of America,” said the little girl, keen to return to the apocalypse, “That’s like he’s The President Of The World!”

“Oh my God that would be SO horrible!” said the boy stacking chips. “Donald Trump is like the Worst Person Ever!”

Beside them, I thought, given we have such clued-in children, then at the least the future of this country is in safe hands.

Mind you, they wrapped up their discussion by having a competition to see who could eat the most sugar, so perhaps their political insight should be judged accordingly.

Personally, I don’t know if President Donald Trump will be The End Of The World but I do think there’s a terrifying possibility that not alone will he be the Republican candidate, I think (and the bookies say I’m wrong) there’s a good chance he might well become US president.

I get rocks thrown at me every time I say this, but I think Hillary Rodham Clinton is a godawful candidate. Every time she points at an imaginary person in the audience, I hear a voice saying “Welcome to the Oval Office, President Trump”.

Clinton is the very epitome of the political establishment against which Trump has built his seemingly-unstoppable insurgency campaign. It’s hard to avoid the suspicion —

Please read on in my column in The Avondhu

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My #GE16 opinion column: For the want of a vote, the election was lost

The game of “what if” is as old as humanity and we all know from an early age how the smallest of things can have the most profound of effects.

“For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost” goes the old proverb, “For want of a shoe the horse was lost; For want of a horse the battle was lost; For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost – All for the want of a horse-shoe nail.”

As we close in on what politicians like to call “the only poll that counts”, we are beset on all sides by opinion polls and they all seem to point in broadly the same direction. Micheál Martin is having a good campaign – shame he doesn’t have a party; Enda is defying the lowest expectations in the history of politics – just about; Gerry Adams is proving he has a foot of clay on either side of the border; support for the independents is up and Labour is facing extinction.

If the polls are right, we can expect a hung Dáil. We could be looking at Fine Gael propped up by a hodge-podge of independents, or Enda Kenny’s nightmare scenario of a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Fein coalition or even a grand coalition of the two civil war parties – Fianna Gael.

At the time of writing – just before the final TV debate – it’s impossible to predict a game-changer in such a tight campaign.

Perhaps Joan Burton will find her voice and remind Labour’s critics that they did some good in office, too. Perhaps those who were never prouder of their country than they were on the day we voted for marriage equality will remember that it wouldn’t have happened without the Labour Party.

In the first TV debate of this campaign, Micheál Martin goaded Gerry Adams to such a degree that Adams snapped “Would you ever fff… go away and catch yourself on.” Perhaps Micheál will irritate him the rest of the way and this time Gerry won’t go with the second phrase to pop into his head.

Perhaps Enda will manage to actually top the astonishingly smug smile he gave on Sunday when he was asked if he stood over calling some of his own constituents “All Ireland champion whingers”. He did stand over it, he said. Some of them wouldn’t know sunshine on a sunny day. By the next morning, he said he had meant people from Fianna Fáil.

Sometimes, in the age of opinion polls, it seems there’s hardly even a point to voting. It’s important to remember, though, that opinion polls are only snapshots and in politics – as in every walk of life – the smallest thing can change everything.

It’s also worth remembering that at the start of the week of the 2011 presidential campaign, all of the opinion polls suggested only one likely outcome: President Sean Gallagher. Then, in the heat of a live television debate, Pat Kenny read out what appeared to be a tweet from Sinn Fein, claiming to be about to produce a smoking gun on donations to Gallagher. Rattled, Gallagher stumbled badly.

At the time, Ken Curtin (nowadays a candidate for the Social Democrats) tweeted it was an ambush worthy of General Tom Barry himself.

Next morning, Gallagher went on RTÉ Radio 1, flailing all around him, and got into a row with businesswoman Glenna Lynch (coincidentally, also a Social Democrat candidate these days). Things went from bad to worse for Gallagher and, by the end of the week, Michael D. Higgins was given the largest mandate in the history of the State and elected the 9th President of Ireland.

In the game of “what if”, perhaps there’s a world where an RTÉ researcher paused for a second and thought twice about passing the so-called “fake tweet” to Pat Kenny. For the want of a tweet in that world, perhaps President Sean Gallagher is doing a perfectly good job in the Áras (even if some of us did raise an eyebrow at his pre-election “pro-business” intervention).

No matter what the polls say, a day is a long time in politics and it would be a fool who would rule out what Harold Macmillan called “Events, dear boy”.

The smallest of things can change everything. For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. For the want of a vote, the election could be lost.

That vote is still in your hands.

Donal O’Keeffe

Evening Echo column: Is it the last days of Holy Catholic Ireland?

Donal O’Keeffe reflects on how many began to decide that they were better qualified to judge morality than their Church was.

It’s odd to realise that what you thought of as current affairs is now history. I recently tweeted about the Kerry Babies case of 1984. I soon discovered that a lot of people had never heard of the Kerry Babies.

Those were extraordinary times, the beginning of the last days of Holy Catholic Ireland. It didn’t seem it then, a year since the “pro-life” movement had forced supine politicians, and citizens too, to enshrine in our Constitution the disastrous 8th amendment which, as Mary Robinson predicted, accidentally caused the limited introduction of abortion in Ireland.

Legalised abortion was never on our agenda, certainly not in the early 1980’s, but with the spectres of contraception, divorce and homosexuality looming, our Catholic fundamentalists saw an open goal. This was their show of strength, their bulwark against the liberal onslaught.

The frantic men and women with plastic rosary beads and placards of aborted foetuses were triumphant but this was to be the last year (please God) that Ireland’s crawthumpers would truly be in command.

The 1984 Kerry Babies story was astonishing even for those of us alive when Ireland was a lot more a dark version of Craggy Island than it is now. A baby was found, stabbed to death, on White Strand, Cahirciveen on the April 14 1984. The Gardaí and DPP decided a distressed young woman whose own baby had died was the murderer.

Following lengthy interrogations, she and her family gave elaborately-detailed confessions to events which they later retracted and denied the contents of. Those confessions raised such concerns that they led to a tribunal of investigation.

This wasn’t the only grotesque tragedy Ireland saw that year.

A girl called Ann Lovett died after giving birth at a grotto to the Blessed Virgin. Kind and decent people took to the airwaves, horrified by what was happening in their country. Months later, similar statues to the one which watched Ann Lovett’s death would be the focus of national religious hysteria. Rosary rallies the length and breadth of the country venerated “moving” statues, flickered by neon bulbs and haunted by moths.

God love us.

The past wouldn’t surrender its grip on Ireland too easily. In 1985, Garret FitzGerald’s “constitutional crusade” suffered a severe set-back when the first divorce referendum was rejected by a margin of 63.5%. (Ten years later, the 15th Amendment would be passed by the slimmest of majorities.)

The future was knocking on Ireland’s door, but it was to be a long time until the turning point of 1992, when the hugely-popular Bishop Eamon Casey was revealed to have fathered a child in the US. The story went off like a bomb and it was a body blow to the Irish Catholic Church’s authority.

1992 was the year too that the X-Case convulsed the country. A 14 year old girl, raped and impregnated by her neighbour, was effectively imprisoned in Ireland, lest she travel to Britain for an abortion.

1993 saw homosexuality decriminalised in Ireland, thanks in no small way to the work of David Norris. The upcoming referendum on marriage equality will be divisive and its result is far from a foregone conclusion but look how far we’ve come in 21 years.

In 1994, mishandling of the extradition of the paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth brought down the Fianna Fáil/Labour government. Smyth’s monstrosity and the sheer scale of the Church’s cover-up of his evil would prove the last straw for many Ioyal and decent Catholics. For those who decided to stay Catholic, Smyth represented the point at which many began to decide that they were better qualified to judge morality than their Church was.

Friends born since these events sometimes say they see little of relevance in events which happened before or during their childhoods. Perhaps one needs to have lived through modern Irish history to understand or appreciate its relevance to the Ireland of today.

Perhaps history is, as James Joyce said, “a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”. Or maybe youth is wasted on the wrong people. Maybe Elvis Costello was right, too: “I am the genuine thing, but to you it’s just history.”

A final thought. I called 1992 a turning point. That November, a woman called Christine Buckley spoke on Gay Byrne’s radio show about the abuse she suffered while growing up in Dublin’s Goldenbridge Industrial School. She would, by sheer force of will, literally change the course of Irish history.

She was laid to rest on March 13 and the congregation, including President Higgins and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, heard that Christine Buckley’s legacy is not that abuse victims are now listened to, but that they are believed.

(This first appeared in the Evening Echo, March 27th, 2014.)

Michael Kitt TD and the Tuam Babies: Irish history is a very small place too

On Thursday 5th of June 2014, Galway East TD Michael P. Kitt addressed the Dáil, adding his voice to calls for an inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes.

I support the call for an independent inquiry into the deaths in the mother and baby homes. As someone who has represented east Galway and Tuam for over three decades, I am very saddened by and horrified at the information on the large number of deceased children involved. I have spoken to the Minister about this and thank him for giving me a hearing.

I understand there could be four Departments in the cross-departmental response to examine the situation and particularly the burial of children in the mass grave. Donal O’Keeffe, writing in journal.ie quotes the historian Catherine Corless describing the mass grave as “filled to the brim with tiny bones and skulls”. It is a terrible indictment of how we cherish children.

The Minister would probably agree that the Bon Secours sisters must act on their responsibility in this matter as they ran the home for mothers and babies. I understand the sisters and the members of the local children’s home graveyard committee have met to discuss a memorial of the unmarked children’s grave in Tuam and that the names will be recorded. I ask the Minister and the Government to work with the local committee in Tuam and the families of the deceased to have a dignified re-interment of the remains of the children. When one thinks of children being discarded, it is time to find out exactly what records existed in the old health board, which preceded the Health Service Executive, HSE, and in Galway County Council because according to media reports there is some dispute about where the records are held. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some of this information. I hope to have a minute later to ask further questions.

Michael Kitt has indeed represented the people of Tuam and East Galway for over three decades. In 1975 he “inherited” his seat upon the death of his father, Michael Snr, who was first elected to the Dáil in 1948. No shame in that. The Taoiseach came to the Dáil by the same route, that same year.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Deputy Kitt is completely in earnest in his horror at what happened in the Tuam Home. But back to Deputy Kitt in a moment.

I saw a beautiful Tweet from Adrienne Corless the other day: “Am so proud of her but she won’t hear of it. She works with that pristine clarity on behalf of nobody, but those kids. Their advocate.” Adrienne is right to be so proud of her Mam. If not for Catherine Corless, we would never have heard of the Tuam Babies, of whom President Michael D Higgins said “These are children who while they were alive had rights, the rights to protection, and who, if dead, had the right to be looked after with dignity.”

Since Alison O’Reilly first broke nationally the Tuam Babies story in the Irish Mail on Sunday on May 25th, it took a while before the story gained traction. The Journal was among the very first to follow up on the story but it seemed that it was only when the international media reported on our latest scandal that some sections of our media deigned to cover the story in any depth, and then mainly to sniff snootily about sensationalism. I call it Oh Jesus We’re In The Washington Post Syndrome.

Until the story got widespread national interest, mainly by becoming first an international story, some of us on social media were baffled and frustrated that such an important story was not leading the news every day and night. It should be said that there were some honourable exceptions, among them and notably Philip Boucher-Hayes, who covered the story on both Liveline and Drivetime, and Carol Hunt in the Sunday Independent.

The naysayers, presumably completely unrelated to the Bon Secours Sisters’ expensive PR firm, have spread the word that coverage has been either “hysterical” or an outright hoax. They weren’t all babies, you know. They weren’t dumped. And it wasn’t a septic tank. And if it was, 796 bodies wouldn’t have fit in a septic tank. The Parish Priest in my native Glanworth singled out the real culprits: the media. (He also took a fantastic swipe at Gay Byrne and his twenty researchers who have but one purpose in life: to do down the Catholic Church. I can only assume that the PP is listening to the wireless from 1983.)

Context can never excuse brutality or neglect, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying. In an Irish Times opinion piece entitled “What twisted morality led to misery of Tuam home?” the Iona “Institute” Patron and (presumably) Twisted Morality Expert Father Vincent Twomey laid the blame squarely on “Victorian puritanism”. Still, I suppose no man ever went broke telling the Irish that it was all the Famine Queen’s fault.

As for “it wasn’t a septic tank” and/or “796 bodies wouldn’t fit in a septic tank”, I think Izzy Kamikaze has answered those arguments pretty comprehensively here. I wish she had called that piece “The Trouble With The Trouble With The Septic Tank Story Story”.

As I’ve said before, one thing at least is certain: there will be no saying a few prayers and covering this up again, as was done when Tuam’s mass grave was first discovered in the 1970s.

Update: Adrienne Corless has set the record straight with the Paper of Record.

One point upon which we can all agree is that the Bon Secours Sisters, for all their depravity, did not operate in isolation. The Catholic Church and the Irish State always worked hand-in-glove. Those of us putting money in the Sunday collection plate have always been complicit too.

Ireland has always been an open conspiracy. The nuns, the parish priest, the schoolmaster, the postmistress, the doctor, the nurse, the bank manager, the shopkeeper, the farmer, the publican, the vet, the county councillor, the TD and the Senator. All the respectable people. And all the people who wanted to be respectable too. We were all in it together. We Irish, crippled by our own insecurity, disfigured by our massive inferiority complex and warped by our craven need to look down on someone, we have always despised the vulnerable.

Oh yes. Michael Kitt. No, I didn’t just quote that Dáil speech above because I’m in it (though I’m grateful to Sinead O’Carroll for the tip-off). We all know that Ireland is a very small place. Turns out Irish history is a very small place too. If you’re on Twitter, you should be following the historian and librarian Liam Hogan. He tweets as @Limerick1914 and his coverage of the Tuam Babies story has been exemplary.

Liam sent me this from the Tuam Herald (25/6/1949). In 1949 the infant mortality rate in the Tuam Home was running at five times that of the general population, but members of Galway County Council “found everything in the Home in very good order” and stayed for the grub.

Notice anything?

Galway Co Co

 – Donal O’Keeffe

 

Ireland, since 1984: “But to you it’s just history”

Sometimes I feel very old. Which I personally think isn’t very fair, mainly because on the inside I usually think I’m about 28 or so. But that said, there’s no escaping the fact that on the outside I’m very much not. And, if I’m honest, I’m getting less 28 on the inside by the day too.

Anyway. What’s put me thinking this way was Vincent Browne’s Irish Times column on the Garda Whistleblowers saga a while back. There has been, Browne wrote, (and it’s worth reading), “a history of malpractice and persistent abuse of legal powers given to An Garda Síochána, abuse aided by some Garda commissioners and ministers for justice who seemed, at times, to have wilfully ignored clear evidence. It was aided further by a cynical media, eager to retain ‘inside lines’ to Garda tip-offs, and aided also, at times, by a compliant judiciary”.

Of course, what got to me was Vincent’s line “Older readers will no doubt recall the Kerry Babies case of 1984–” I tweeted the link with that remark, adding the jokey comment “writes Vincent Browne depressingly” and soon discovered that a lot of people who are not perhaps “older readers” had either not heard of the Kerry Babies story at all or only knew of it peripherally. It’s something that happens to everyone, I should imagine, when you realise suddenly that what you remember as current affairs is now filed under “History”. But 1984 was thirty years ago, even if its events are still relevant in the Ireland of 2014.

Those were extraordinary times, and I think in many ways the beginning of the last days of Holy Catholic Ireland. It didn’t seem it then, though. It had been only a year since the “pro-life” movement had forced supine politicians, yes and citizens too, to enshrine in our Constitution the disastrously simplistic 8th amendment which, as Mary Robinson had predicted at the time, accidentally resulted, three decades later, in the limited legalisation of abortion in Ireland.

Our right-wing Catholic conservatives had decided that, with the spectres of contraception, divorce and, God help us, homosexuality looming, they needed a big win and they needed it fast. Abortion was never likely to be legalised in Ireland, certainly not in the early 1980’s, but as far as our Catholic fundamentalists were concerned, abortion was an open goal. This was to be their show of strength, their bulwark against the onslaught of liberalism. The frantic men and women with their plastic rosary beads and placards of aborted foetuses were triumphant and it seemed the Ireland of John Charles McQuaid was again in the ascendant but, regardless of appearances, this was to be the last year (please God) that Ireland’s crawthumpers would truly to be in command.

Again, it didn’t seem so at the time and Ireland would remain for a long time a very strange and sinister place.

1984 dawned but Eric Blair would hardly have imagined what happened next. The Kerry Babies story was quite astonishing, even then, even for those of us who were alive at a time when Ireland was a lot more like a dark version of Craggy Island than it is now. A baby was found, stabbed to death, on White Strand, Cahirciveen, Co Kerry on the 14th of April 1984. The resultant Garda investigation and prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that a distressed young woman whose own baby, a different baby as it turned out, had died, was the murderer.

Following lengthy interrogations by the hard men in the Murder Squad, the suspect and her family gave elaborately detailed confessions to events which, it turned out, had never actually happened.  Those confessions were proven to be so flawed that they led to a tribunal of investigation, which was itself, to be frank, quite farcical. Here’s your primer, courtesy of those good folks at Wikipedia. I would really recommend that you read Gene Kerrigan’s superb account of the story here.

The Kerry Babies incident was not the only grotesque tragedy which Ireland would see in this year, or which would highlight so clearly that the old order was about to change. A young girl called Ann Lovett died that year, after giving birth at a grotto to the Blessed Virgin. Gay Byrne and Marian Finucane all-but invented social media in Ireland then, with RTÉ Radio giving voice to kind, decent and horrified Irish (and mostly Catholic) people appalled by what was happening in their country. Coincidentally, only months later, similar statues to the one which blankly watched Ann Lovett bleed out in a field would be the focus of a national religious hysteria. Rosary rallies occurred the length and breadth of the country to venerate “moving” statues, crudely-painted concrete idols illuminated by neon bulbs and haunted by moths. God love us.

The past would not surrender its grip on Ireland too easily. In 1985, Garret FitzGerald‘s “constitutional crusade” suffered a severe set-back when the first divorce referendum was rejected by a margin of 63.5%. (Ten years after that, the 15th Amendment would eventually be passed but only by the slimmest of majorities. Just to be contrarian, I will note that you never hear Irish liberals moaning about that particular referendum do-over.)

The future might have been knocking on Ireland’s door, but it was to be a long time until the turning point of 1992, when the hugely popular Bishop Eamon Casey was revealed by the Irish Times to have fathered a child over in Amerikay. We are used now to Father Ted’s Bishop Brennan and “How’s the son?” “He means the Son of God, Your Grace” but at the time the story went off like a bomb.

Casey’s media profile was probably only rivalled by that of Fr Michael Cleary, a man who, as it turned out, himself harboured a similar secret. Casey’s exposure as a man who had fathered a child and who had misappropriated funds to finance that child’s upbringing (“That money was merely resting in my account!”) served as a body blow to the Irish Catholic Church’s iron-clad authority.

1992 was the same year that the X-Case convulsed the country. A 14 year old girl, raped and impregnated by her neighbour, was effectively imprisoned in Ireland, lest she travel to Britain for an abortion. I will take to my grave the memory of the Martyn Turner cartoon which so perfectly encapsulated a national tragedy and a particularly Irish scandal. I was on a date that day and all we spoke about was this story. I imagine that younger readers will picture a scene from “Quirke” now.. x case Much more would happen in 1992, and I’ll come to that in a moment, but from this distance, from here in the future, dates and times tend to blur but mood is in some ways easier to evoke and that was the year, to my recollection, that the atmosphere in Ireland began to change.

1993 saw homosexuality finally decriminalised in Ireland and when Senator David Norris goes to his grave (hopefully sometime in the 22nd century) his life’s work will be celebrated as that of an Irish patriot who, for all his human failings, changed his country permanently and for the better. The upcoming referendum on marriage equality will be incredibly divisive and its result is far from a foregone conclusion but still. Look how far we’ve come in twenty-one years.

In 1994, the Irish government’s mishandling of the extradition of the paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth brought down the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition government. Smyth’s monstrosity and the sheer scale of the Church’s cover-up of his evil, when finally it came to light, was to prove the last straw for many Ioyal and decent Catholics. Even for those who decided to stay with their Church, Brendan Smyth represented a clear break and a point at which Irish Catholics began to decide that they were better qualified to judge morality than their Church was.

I sometimes hear friends who were born since these events say that they see little of relevance in events which happened before or during their childhoods. Most recently, when a friend who is a scientist at Oxford University and who really is 28 said that to me on Facebook, another friend, a journalist who is more a contemporary of mine, commented that perhaps one needs to have lived through modern Irish history to understand or appreciate its relevance to the Ireland of today.

And maybe that’s fair enough. Maybe many think of history, perhaps even recent history, as Stephen Dedalus did, “a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”. Or maybe youth is wasted on the wrong people. And maybe Elvis Costello was right, too. “Well I am the genuine thing,” sang Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus in ‘Pony Street‘, “But to you it’s just history.”

Donal O’Keeffe

One postscript. I mentioned 1992 being a turning point. In November of that year, a woman called Christine Buckley spoke to Gay Byrne on his radio show about her experience of abuse while growing up in Dublin’s Goldenbridge Industrial School. This was not the last that Ireland would hear from a woman who, by sheer force of will, would literally change the course of Irish history. She was laid to rest on Thursday the 13th of March 2014 and the funeral congregation, which included President Michael D. Higgins and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, heard that Christine Buckley’s legacy is not just that the victims of abuse are now listened to, but that they are believed.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.